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An Extinction Story

Experts say the heath hen, a game bird related to the prairie chicken, is the only species of which the last individual in the wild was known and documented before extinction.

This is a children’s story about Booming Ben, the last heath hen, and the efforts to save him and his kind on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Excerpt from The Last Heath Hen

Many years ago, something extraordinary happened on Martha’s Vineyard, something that had never happened before and would never happen again.


It was a rainy spring morning in 1931 on the big island that lies just south of Falmouth, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, a pretty sight across the few miles of saltwater that separate them. On a clear day, you could see the white wake of ferry boats churning across Vineyard Sound between the island and the mainland. But not that day.


The air was weighted and wet, and a raw wind blew across the open field where two men, a biologist and a writer, crouched inside an observation box with peepholes in the sides, hiding and waiting. The bad weather was terrible for their purpose. They almost cancelled their plans, but time was running out. They had few options.


Suddenly, the object of their quest emerged from low trees and scrub brush at the edge of the field, soggy and bedraggled, almost unrecognizable. “There he is!” one man whispered softly to his companion. It was Booming Ben.

Book no.1

Of Further Interest...

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The Heath Hen's 
Journey to Extinction,

                    Henry B. Hough 1934 pamphlet 

Here are some complex questions and fascinating issues that arise out of the story of the last Heath Hens

             Restored archival video:

The Heath Hen

circa 1932 (35 mm, 1 reel)


Alfred O. Gross Papers,

George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives,

Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine

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Courtesy of the George J. Mitchell
Dept. of Special Collections & Archives

Background photo credit: Martha's Vineyard Times

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